Boring carpeting is ubiquitous in cookie-cutter new builds and ’90s rentals—and it’s one of the hardest things to decorate around. Pulling up the carpet and replacing it with hardwood will cost a fortune; oftentimes there’s no way of knowing if the floors underneath are usable. The key to beating beige is to treat it exactly the way you would any floor: Top it with a rug. Styling a rug on top of a carpet lets you avoid a renovation but still introduces layers of color and pattern to distract from the oatmeal sea underneath. And there’s plenty more that a rug over carpeting can do to improve a bland floor:

  • Break up an open-concept space
  • Bridge two adjoining rooms
  • Add a focal point without taking up square footage
  • Balance out other busy textiles

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite examples—and what they accomplish—below. 

The Third Pattern’s the Charm

Instead of dipping a toe in the rug-topping waters, dive into the deep end by layering a rug on another rug on top of carpet. In Style Me Pretty founder Abby Larson’s nursery, squared-off landing pads at the foot of the crib bring in new patterns and plush textures while keeping the blue and white theme intact. Setting the lines straight also keeps things from feeling too disheveled.

Extend Your Vintage Buys Beyond Chairs

Don’t let your antiquing trip upstate stop just because you’ve run out of real estate in which to put furniture. In this Lake Tahoe home by Jenny Kayne, vintage rugs infuse tons of character but don’t take up any usable space. Plus they help bridge the age gap between new carpeting and any old treasures.

Move Them Around Like Accessories

Not every rug needs to live in one place forever. Shift smaller sheepskins around to accessorize—just as you would with extra-cozy throw pillows. In the Portland, Maine, home of Linda and John Meyers of Wary Meyers, the pieces can be readjusted wherever needed. Who needs slippers when you have a furry textile underfoot?

Mix and Match Styles

Just because you’ve got a statement sofa doesn’t mean your floors need to fade to the background. For Kim West’s place in Austin, the palette still works on a broader level—this rug ties together the blues from the sofa and the tan of the carpet. 

Layer Textures, Not Colors

Neutral tones will always work together, which gives you freedom to play with material. Here, a thick shag stands out from the solid flat-weave textile underneath.

Give Transitional Spaces Their Due

We walk through our hallways dozens of times a day, so why not make them their own design moment? A short runner can be a visual bridge between two zones and keeps the eye moving across a sea of beige flooring, like in this Altadena, California, project by Homepolish designer Rosa Beltran.

Play With Shape

Who says all rugs need to be a basic rectangle? Experiment with the forms themselves, whether they be stars, blobs, or circles, as in Sarah Sherman Samuel’s daughter’s nursery in their Grand Rapids, Michigan, home. They might just help your kids learn their shapes! 

Carry a Theme All the Way Through

Photography by Belle Morizio

If there’s a home for a fun novelty rug, it’s in a kids’ space. Piling rock-shaped pillows on a big moon makes the transition to the galaxy wall mural seamless.

A Small Dose of Color Goes a Long Way

Saturated hues won’t overwhelm if the contrast is muted gray shelving and black and white hex carpeting, as in this nursery in Edie Parker founder Brett Heyman’s Manhattan apartment.

Balance Busy Walls

For places clearly drawing the eye up to the ceiling—as in Cameron Ruppert’s design of a cowboy-covered bunk room for a client’s niece, nephew, and seven godchildren—keep the floor bold and saturated to ground the whimsical print. 

Break Up a Layout

Skip walls and divide up a room with (much less expensive) rugs. In this Long Island home’s sunroom, designed by Sara Gilbane, a cream shag clearly delineates the bench from the sofa setup.

This story was originally published in February 2019. It has since been updated.

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